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Toilet leak from upstairs leads to huge repair bill

The upstair owner's toilet leaked water from wax ring. The weight of water weighed down on my ceiling. After mold control and ceiling and drywall repairs etc. The bill mounted over $10,000. HOA asked both parties to file to their insurance company. Upstairs owner insurance company rejected the claim with the reason (non-negligent). My insurance doesn't sound like trying to fight for me. HOA simply put the bill on my account as they consider it is the owner's responsibility and they imagine my insurance company would subrogate. I need some legal advices on the issue. I understood I may lose deductible from the claim. However, it looks like the whole bill is on me only.

Answers and Comments

I would think the owner upstairs would be completely responsible. Were there warning signs before the ceiling fell in? And did the upstairs owner fix their toilet?? Also, it sounds like your HOA handled all the repairs; why was that?

20 Apr 2019

No warning sign.  HOA fixed the toilet and all the other things. But they sent bills to different parties to collect. Their contractors are expensive. No one ever agreed with the price

20 Apr 2019

i don't  buy for 1 second that there was NO warning sign, yet $10K in damage.  it would take a long time, there would be stains on your ceiling/cracks.

why did the HOA fix it?  typically, this is NOT an HOA repair.

We have had similar issues, never cost more than $500 to repair tha damage, including replacing ceilings.

For 10K, the legal advice you need is from a lawyer.

Laws vary, but in my state apparently upstairs is liable.  All the cases I know of the upstairs insurance did pay the bill,but then again a $500 bill isn't worth them fighting over.


maybe it is that there was only 1K in total NEEDED repairs, and HOA scam artists did extra un necessary work and padded the bill.

21 Apr 2019

There is indeed no warning sign. the ceiling was sealed tight with high quality glossy paint. underneath the paint possibly are wallpaper. 

The sheerrock on ceiling didn't break or leak.The ceiling was noticed to collapse from a corner of the ceiling without any watermark.

HOA contractor must have padded the bill. I agree.

I wonder why HOA moved ahead and fixed everything. I only apprroved the fix and never approved the price. At least interia paint of wall should not be HOA's reponsiblity. But they fixed wallboard, panel, fixtures -- everything.

21 Apr 2019

Laws vary from state to state, What state do you live in? This is crucial for answering.

21 Apr 2019


21 Apr 2019

as i indicated, maybe if there was about $1000 in real damage, it might not have been noticable, but by the time it would reach $10K you would have noticed something lon g before.  for it to cost 10K I would have expected them to have worked 5-10 full days...if they didn't spend that much time, they over billed.

21 Apr 2019

I fully renovated my bathroom, removed all floors, walls, tile, toilet, tub, since, etc and it was only about $10K....I don't see how a repair could be that much

21 Apr 2019

Mostly on mold containment 

21 Apr 2019

My understanding is that California does not have specific laws about damage and insurance coverage in condos, although there are laws regarding negligence. In the absence of state laws, if the upstairs owner or plumber was not negligent, then each entity pays for their own damage.


Don't trust that your volunteer board members know anything about how to assign damages, which is a complex subject. The association should have paid for some of it.


Check your documents to see if they require the association to carry insurance coverage on units or separate interest. If so, that insurance should pay for damage to your unit. Is there anything in the insurance section about units?


The other thing I would do is to understand the definition and exact boundaries of your unit. Typically, the upstairs unit does not include the subfloor beneath the visible flooring, and your unit most likely does not include the area above your visible ceiling. If so, that area between condos, where most of the mold was located, is common area and not your responsibility to pay. In many definitions (although not all), you own the paint down and don't even own the sheetrock on the ceiling. What do your docs say about unit boundaries? You should not be paying for repairs to common area between floors.


21 Apr 2019

Wax rings don't usually fail. We had a unit owner who installed a new tile floor, and the installer (not a plumber) fitted the toilet on a somewhat uneven floor, so the toilet rocked back and forth just a little when someone sat on it. It started to leak just a little at the wax ring, and the situation was made worse because the downstairs owner did not report the water stains on the ceiling.

The association cut down and replaced the sheetrock, while being careful and running a household air filter to suck up the mold, and put some anti-mold fog up in the ceiling, painted some of it with Mold Killing Primer. Wiped up the bathroom everywhere. Total cost was under $500.

What caused the wax ring to go bad?

21 Apr 2019

@Freddie. Honestly I don't know why the leak was so servere. The plumber report simply says they replaced wax ring of the toilet and problem solved. I wonder if there is and issue with the flange and attached pipe.

You know, however, this is HOA sent plumber.

In California, everything costs a lot.

21 Apr 2019

@Freddie, HOA insurance got a $10,000 dedutable. and I think I fell into this trap when they asked me if I would go for reporting HOA master policy or go through my own insurance. As HOA policy doesn't cover all the damages, so an adjuster is required to arbitrate the remaining balance. I figured my insurance company could better protecte me. I was wrong.

Here is the defnition of the unit in the CCR's.


A Unit consists of the area bounded by and including its perimeter walls.

ceilings, floors, windows, and doors, including the wallboard, plaster. paneling.

carpet or other finishes on the these surfaces. A Unit Includes (I) all of its

windows and doors. (ii) plumbing. heating. arid electrical fixtures or appliances

located or exposed within the Unit. and (iii) the firebox portion of its fireplace (if

any). A Unit does not include (I) structural components of walls, ceilings, and

floors. (ii) hot water heaters and portions of plumbing. heating. or electrical

systems serving more than one Unit, and iii) chimneys and portions of

fireplaces other than fireboxes.

I think the sheerrock and wall board is my responsibilty. It is kind of Anti-owner policy.

The area between subfloor and the ceiling, should be the common space, I think. I pointed out this to the property manager, and mentioned it should be HOA's responsiblity.  His answer was "hmm, not always like that".

Not in the CCR's, but in the regulation and rules book. It mentioned 


Per the CC&R’s, you are responsible to pay for repairs and damages resulting

from leaks from plumbing inside your unit. This includes damages to

neighboring units – which is why it is important to carry Homeowner’s

Insurance, and why it is important to correct the problem quickly

I believe all the unit owner should have signed this. The Wax wing is within the unit for sure.


21 Apr 2019

i don't even but 10K with mold remediation.....the issues in my HOA involved mold, affected pieces --with the mold were cut off and replaced....most mold is not toxic

21 Apr 2019

Slow leaks over a long time can be severe. Or they just did the maximum they possibly could with all of the extra mold remediation. Did you sign for all of the mold remediation? Does your management company get a fee from the contractors?


Ask the plumber directly what caused the wax ring to fail and if the toilet was mounted securely or loose. Ask who installed the toilet. Ask if the floor was replaced and when, and who put in the toilet after the floor replacement.


Is your insurance paying for everything except the deductible? Are you covered for mold? What are they covering and not covering?


According to your CCRs you do own the drywall (aka sheetrock), but not the "structural components" in the wall in other words the studs and joists. You also own the "finishes" in other words the paint. The area between subfloor and the ceiling is common area.


Most of the mold probably formed on the back of your wallboard. There will be some mold on the structural components, so you can go back to your HOA for any costs for structure (joists) in the ceiling. Ask the contractors what they did in the area between subfloor and the ceiling.


You may wish to hire a "public adjuster" to represent you. You can also go back to your insurance adjuster for further information to help fill in your understanding.


Check out that bit in the rules and regulations. It sounds like the upstairs owner should pay, but it may or may not be correct according to your CCRs.

22 Apr 2019

@Freddie, I didn't sign the docs as I was at work. I have to see if my famiy did.

I don't know if management of HOA get a fee from thoese concontrators. It is the same compnay for all the repairs.

I will ask those wax ring related questions. The insurance looks like cover nothing less deductables. 

There is one paragraph in the regulartions - "

  • The Association takes water intrusion between units or into the common area seriously and requires that you notify the Management Company immediately of leaks into or from your unit.

  • Per the CC&R’s, you are responsible to pay for repairs and damages resulting from leaks from plumbing inside your unit. This includes damages to neighboring units – which is why it is important to carry Homeowner’s Insurance, and why it is important to correct the problem quickly.


This can be a life saver? look like the HOA shouldn't charge me and ask me to file an insurance claim.





22 Apr 2019

Find it in the CCRs. If it is actually there, great. 

23 Apr 2019

@Freddie and everyone who cares about the matter, Thank you all for the careness and understanding and eagerness to help. I will follow up with my insurance adjuster and argue against my HOA with all the points.  Will keep you updated.

23 Apr 2019

Thank you all for giving me advices. I have the latest update ---  

The other party's insurance agreed to be liable, however, only for the part that my insurance is pursuing. But the HOA bill is way bigger than that. 

In the case, my insurance agent has directed me to directly contact the other party's insurance adjuster for the rest of the bill. I called and he said he is reviewing and told me to reach out later.

In the meantime, HOA has been pressing me to pay them the full bill first. I explained that according to the rule book, I shouldn't be liable for the leak damage. and of course HOA was not happy and tried to dismissed the rule book saying it is not part of CCRs. It went back to a looped discussion with HOA that each party shall be responsible for their own damage and in the case HOA fronted the repair so I shall pay back first and pursue the other party separately.

By far I was only able to successfully pursuade HOA to put the bill also on the other party's account. I am not sure how it will develop next. HOA relaxed the billing deadline, but I doubt it will allow me enough time to collect the money.

I am thinking of small claim court now. Shall I file it against neighbor or neighbor's insurance? Can I prevent HOA from forcely collecting the bill from me? They say I agreed with the repair so that I should pay back. My arguments were: I agreed to move on with the repair cause the liable party clearly is my neighbor. above that, I was not involved in the price negotiation with the contractor's hired by HOA (their price is way over market price). Also damage by the neighbor impacted the common space. To prevent further damage from moisture, HOA has to repair it by obligation.









15 May 2019